Television: Straight from the big craic handbook of cliches

‘London Irish’ and ‘Damo & Ivor’ scraped the barrel of laughs – but ‘The IT Crowd’ finale rebooted the genre

Drinking-up time: Packy (Peter Campion), Bronagh (Sinead Keenan), Niamh (Kat Reagan) and Conor (Kerr Logan) in ‘London Irish’

Drinking-up time: Packy (Peter Campion), Bronagh (Sinead Keenan), Niamh (Kat Reagan) and Conor (Kerr Logan) in ‘London Irish’


Probably the most irritating thing about London Irish (Channel 4, Tuesday) is that it isn’t funny, which isn’t ideal when it’s labelled as comedy. Well, that and the bitter, mean-minded national stereotyping.

The central characters are four twentysomethings from Northern Ireland living in London, and they are pissed-up Paddies straight out of the big craic handbook of cliches: wacky Conor (Kerr Logan), aggressive Bronagh (Sinéad Keenan), sensible Packy (Peter Campion) and dim Niamh (Kat Reagan). The episode began in a pub with the four, all drunk, discussing the differences between British and Irish attitudes to alcohol. “They drink until they’re drunk. We drink until we’re sober,” said Packy. Then Conor wet himself and it was time to go home.

It got even less funny from there. There were “jokes” at the expense of a disabled man, epic cursing, general waster activity and dialogue of such unpleasant idiocy – “Packy, how many times a day do you shite?” – that after a while the only sound you could hear was that of Lisa McGee, the Derry-born writer of London Irish, scraping the bottom of the barrel in a desperate attempt to shock. You’d be offended by the stereotyping if you weren’t so bored.

Another crime against comedy, Damo & Ivor (RTÉ Two, Monday), continued its long run; six episodes is long when everything after the first five minutes of last week’s opener made the programme feel like an eternity.

Written by and starring Andy Quirke, it’s based on two Dublin caricatures: Damo, a thick northside tough; and Ivor, a thick southside poshie. They are twins (Quirke plays both) separated at birth. Damo has been brought up by his granny (Ruth McCabe), a prostitute – “Ah, Grano, you haven’t been sucking mickey for money.” Ivor has been raised in suburban splendour by his filthy-rich adoptive parents. His dad is played by Rik Mayall, a choice that reflects Damo & Ivor’s obviously generous budget – it’s a slick production with funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland – rather than anything Mayall, always a hammy actor (from his Young Ones days on), might bring to the tedious party.

The main characters are cartoonish – Damo’s baseball cap has an oversized peak, and Ivor wears huge turned-up collars – but the storylines are standard sitcom, so the tone is strangely jarring. Without a single humorous line that might gel the thing together, it’s excruciating.

Damo and Ivor first appeared on YouTube, in amusing musical parodies, and then in sketches for RTÉ’s Republic of Telly, but spinning out a three-minute video into three hours of TV takes more than this thin, ill-conceived script can offer.

Last night Graham Linehan served up a masterclass in comedy in the final, slightly out-of-nowhere episode of The IT Crowd (Channel 4, Friday), the last run of which finished in 2010.

Its stars, most notably Chris O’Dowd (Roy), have gone on to bigger things, so it was a coup to get him, Richard Ayoade (Moss) and Katherine Parkinson (Jen) back to play the tech-support department of a corporation. (Their stock phrase was, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”) It was characters-as-usual for the trio of geeks: Roy misunderstanding his girlfriend – “Alice told me I was on the artistic spectrum” – Moss trying to beat his self-esteem issues by wearing women’s trousers, and ditzy Jen flirting with the guy in the coffee shop and still trying to convince their brilliantly odious boss (Matt Berry) that she isn’t his secretary.

Linehan mined the multiple pitfalls of real-life IT and social media. After a video of Jen accidentally throwing coffee on a homeless person went viral she became known globally as the “Coffee toss tramp bitch”. She tried to make amends via Twitter (or “Chitter” as it was called, for some reason), and it went disastrously wrong when she omitted a question mark. Meanwhile, Moss made one of his excruciatingly nerdy board-game review shows, and the global hacker movement Anonymous was unmasked as a teenager in his parents’ living room.

If the very enthusiastic laughter track had laid off for even a few minutes, it would have been perfect. Even so, it was a fitting, clever and funny finale to a brilliant series.

Downton Abbey (UTV, Sunday; TV3, Wednesday) is back, and the viewing figures were higher than ever, exceeding 10 million in the UK for Sunday’s opener, so the appetite for the classy-looking soap shows no sign of diminishing.

The episode was set in 1922, six months after Matthew’s death. A grieving Mary wandered around the house like a slow-talking, very pale Miss Havisham. Racy Edith kissed a married man in a restaurant, and Sybil’s bereaved husband showed signs of getting way above his station to save Downton. (Wasn’t that the plot from the first series?) Mrs O’Brien is gone (a note on the mantelpiece; no dramatic car crash for her), and the butler, Thomas, is positioned as the nasty schemer of the house.

Julian Fellowes, the writer of Downton, slowly laid the groundwork for the series storylines, such as Edith going to Germany, and there were nods to the change in the structure of society brought on by the war. By Christmas, Lord and Lady Grantham might just have to learn to dress themselves. The most exciting thing that happened below stairs was the arrival of an electric food mixer.

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